Running a tattoo studio is very expensive, just like any other mom and pop shop. Unlike giant corporations, tattoo studios are very rarely part of a chain; instead they’re owned and operated by the artists themselves. Part of what you pay for a tattoo goes directly towards rental costs. This is another reason why your tattoo may be expensive: a nice studio in a choice part of town like London will cost way more than a spot out in the suburbs. You’re helping the artist pay to keep their shopfront open!
Upkeep of a tattoo studio also includes great costs like equipment, furniture, supplies and employee pay for a shop manager or admin assistant. Almost all the supplies an artist uses are one time use...meaning all those paper towels, plastic wrap rolls, needles, trash bags, plastic cups, and more, are being reordered in large numbers and often.
Reason #2: Hidden costs
Although it’s still the Wild West in some places, many countries have set up a lot of regulations that tattoo studios have to abide by. Because tattoo artists do such sensitive work, some locals require artists to carry tattoo licenses. This usually entails a test on hygiene and cleanliness as well as a fee. Studios may also need to be registered and own a certain level of health insurance in order to operate. These can be one time costs, yearly costs, and even monthly costs.
Waste removal is also important for tattoo shops. These special services offer medical waste removal which is integral for shop cleanup as used tattoo needles are a health hazard. No one wants those poking up out of random skips around town!
Reason #3: Design time & Sitting time
A big part of the reason why your tattoo is so expensive is because the artist will be spending a lot of time working on not only tattooing your piece, but also designing your piece. This especially comes into play if it’s a custom tattoo. This is partly why custom work is usually much more expensive than flash. And even if your artist free‑hands their artwork onto your skin, chances are they’ve put a lot of thought into the details they’ll be using, the motifs you’d like, and even placement.
You’re not getting charged just for the time it takes you to be tattooed, you’re also paying for all the behind the scenes work that goes into creating your perfect piece!
Reason #4: Size, placement & details
This one is probably the most understandable, right? The bigger the piece, the bigger the price. But placement also comes into play. Think about it: a nice flat spot, like the front of your thigh or your sternum, is way easier to tattoo than, say, your ribs or your neck. Areas that are more difficult to tattoo come with a higher cost, partly because it will usually just take longer than an easy spot. There may also be changes to price if you want different colors of ink instead of just black. More inks equals more supply costs and more time the artist needs to invest in creating your tattoo!
There are also cost differences when it comes to the amount of detailed work in a tattoo, which is why, for example, an artist who does Hyperrealism charges more than someone who does Minimalism. Realism tattoos take a very long time and are usually highly detailed, very specific. So, the level of time, detail, and technical difficulty all comes into play when your artist prices your tattoo.
Reason #5: Years of dedication & expertise
Asking why a tattoo is expensive is sort of on par with asking why dentistry is so expensive. Or why therapy is so expensive. Or really any medical profession since all of them require a good deal of training, skill, and devotion.
Many tattoo artists will be an apprentice for a great deal of time before they become full fledged tattooers. This could be a year but can also be up to five years; it completely depends on the person and their mentor. During the time the apprentice is being taught, often they are not paid anything; most of the time they’re actually working for the shop in exchange for being taught to tattoo.
Apprentices will usually give out free tattoos, or will only charge a supplies fee, until they’re ready, skill‑level wise, to charge clients in full. As a tattooer progresses, they may raise their prices for a number of reasons but usually a high level in price equals a high level in skill and technique. Most artists will have been tattooing for years, even a decade, before they charge a very high premium. But if you're astounded by their artwork, they're definitely worth the price.
Building a strong reputation and the high quality skills to back up a big price tag is something that takes time for an artist, but it's worth investing in as a client. If you’re asking, “is it worth it?”, this probably means you don’t understand the skill it takes to be a great tattooer or you don’t appreciate it as completely as you probably should! All the time that artists invested in their education is being paid back to you through incredible art that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for their years of dedication to the craft.
So, why is your tattoo so expensive?
Hopefully our top 5 points helped to illustrate a few things. Clients don’t often get to peek into the inner workings of business, but that does have a lot to do with price. And perhaps, also, you’ve found new appreciation for the skill it takes to be a tattooer. It’s not as easy as simply picking up a cheap machine on Amazon!
But we’ll also touch upon one more bonus reason why your tattoo is worth the money: the time, effort, and cost it takes to cover up a bad tattoo. Paying good money for a tattoo you're happy with, up front, will make sure that you don’t spend years regretting a bad decision, and paying more money out of pocket to fix it.
Cover up tattoos are almost always more expensive, but sometimes laser removal is also necessary. So keep that in mind when throwing down coin for a cheap tattoo: good tattoos cost good money.